COVINGTON, Ga. - Newborn Mayor Greg Ellwanger advocated for a Newton County aquatic center during the Newton County Tomorrow Executive Committee meeting Friday, Aug. 16. Ellwanger partnered with Robert Stansfield, volunteer member of the Covington YMCA advisory board, to address the proposal to the NCT committee.
Ellwanger, swim expert and physical therapist, expressed his passion for swimming to the committee members. He strongly supported the idea of bringing an aquatic center to Newton, stating that residents can highly benefit from its services.
Ten people in the United States die from accidental drowning every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Two of those victims are children aged 14 or younger.
"Swimming is a skill that will not only save your life one day but will save someone else's," Ellwanger said. "You cannot say that about any other sport."
As a physical therapist, Ellwanger prescribed swimming to recovering patients with injuries or other physical problems. He also believed swimming was beneficial for children with learning disabilities.
During the NCT committee meeting, Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston mentioned that there will be an "up-crying" from some residents. He said during previous construction projects, committee members - emphasizing that he was not mentioning any current members - will "get soft" once the "political wind blows a little too hard."
"The commitment has got to be pretty strong from a Newton standpoint," Johnston said.
Ellwanger assured the committee that he was not afraid to talk to residents about moving forward with an aquatic center. "Bring it on," he said.
Ellwanger made comments about the lack of swimming pools in Georgia high schools being due to 1940s and 1950s segregation.
"Pools were torn up because they didn't want white folks swimming with black folks," Ellwanger said. "I'll be upfront with that, and that is terrible.
"There are three public high schools in the state of Georgia that have swimming pools. How many high schools have football stadiums?"
The pool has to be built to accommodate everyone in Newton County, according to Stansfield. He mentioned that the facility will need a waterpark for families, an outdoor pool, a learn to swim function and a therapeutic pool for physical therapy.
"You have to build a facility that responds to all those needs," Stansfield said. "If you just build one facility that responds to one constituency, you are going to spend 75% of the money and get one-fourth of the participation. It's not going to be successful. You got to go big to make it work."
Newton County School System Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey supported the idea of building an aquatic center.
"Having a local, state-of-the-art aquatic center would definitely be beneficial to the community at large and also a tremendous value to our students who participate in swimming," she said. "We currently have two swim teams in our district, and they must travel to other counties to practice and compete.
Stansfield estimated the annual operational cost for an aquatic center would be $350,000, having used another pool as a model. Newton County will only be able to recover half of the operational costs. The Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax can be used to build the pool but cannot be used to operate it, according to Oxford Mayor and NCT Chairman Jerry Roseberry.
"An aquatic center cannot be seen as a profit maker," Stansfield said. "It has to be seen as a community service."
The NCT Executive Committee will revisit the aquatic center proposal in December 2019 once Ellwanger and Stansfield have more concrete plans.